When the rest of the world’s a pantomime, performing arts can offer blissful sanctuary. Last year, we had several theatre pieces we enjoyed, from the large productions to the smaller underground ones.
When it comes to the many genres of performing arts that are staged out there in Malaysia, it’s hard to objectively rate everything so broadly. Nevertheless, the plays below are the ones that truly engaged us in one way or another – but at the end of the day, they’re all matters of personal preference. Without further ado, here’s our top 5 local plays from 2017!
(To read our original full reviews click on the title of the play)
Written by Harold Pinter
Artistic Director : Joe Hasham OAM
Cast: Razif Hashim, Stephanie van Driesen, Omar Ali and Jad Hidhir
There was never a moment of Betrayal that felt mundane and stagnant. Harold Pinter’s penchant for realism means the inclusion of seemingly trite conversations, but when executed properly, actually adds to the rhythm of the storytelling. All of the actors, Razif Hashim, Stephanie Van Driesen and Omar Ali pull this off with sleek precision, ensuring that even superficial banter about books become intense. Omar Ali’s booming and sophisticated demeanor stole the show, especially when he tiptoes around the steady, rational side of his character, Robert, and the side of him teetering on the brink of rage. Set-wise, Joe Hasham’s Betrayal is very creative in ensuring a seamless staging. The introduction to the location is a video compilation of all the important events during the time period shown in reverse, in order to show the backwards progress of the play. As Paint It Black plays in the background, the tumultuous ’60s – 70s is captured perfectly. The major events (such as the Vietnam War riots and the Nixon scandal) act as a contrasting backdrop to the play’s otherwise small microcosm of treachery, maybe as a way to highlight how obnoxious and self-centered the characters of the story really are. Although we’ve had our qualms about the arrythmic outcome of the Malay translation, Joe Hasham does Harold Pinter more than justice in this adaptation.
Directed and Written by Qiu Qatina
Cast: Ahmad Ghani, Jubang Samat, Han Zalini, Shaza Bae, Royzaib Sugian
Teater Pedofilia has broken boundaries with this tasteful approach to a taboo topic. It’s a crass reflection on our reality, with an unfiltered portrayal of ignorant authorities and presumptuous members of society. There is a lot of abstract sensibility to it, that succeeds in creating a constant sense of dread yet maintaining all necessary tact. One of the true stars of the play was the creative direction of Fendi Shah and other people involved is apparent through many aspects of the performance. There is the amazing rain effect that is done, with water dripping from the ceiling into a makeshift drain in front of the audience. The dark, reddish hue lighting that seems to envelope the ominous mood of the play felt real and breathtaking at every turn. The other highlight of Teater Pedofilia was Qiu Qatina’s choreography. The movements are sensuous but disconcerting – but rightfully so, as it shows the forbidden lust in the pedophile’s heinous doings; made even more enigmatic with the mask. Teater Pedofilia was an audacious piece where a lot of things could’ve gone wrong. It it’s narrative, in the scenography, or the execution. But it held itself steady, and dared to start a conversation that needed to be had. And with the proceeds of Teater Pedofilia’s tickets and merchandise sales going to NGOs like Protect and Save the Children, it felt like a step in the right direction.
Directed by Azzad Mahdzir
Cast: Nadia Aqilah, Surnia Fizul
SAMAR was a part of a mixed art installation, which uses all the elements of a traditional ‘kenduri’ to talk about issues about faith and gender; encouraging guests to immerse themselves in the message. As a piece of theatre however, it stands out in its honest narrative encapsulated through the wonderful set design, and the subtle but powerful acting by Nadia Aqilah. At the heart of it SAMAR holds all the elements together through the story of a couple and the trials they go through in marriage. Kenduri Kendara works in creating an experience that prods you into contemplation. The projection and the lighting brings you into an open house, if the ‘kenduri’ Melayu was directed by Andy Warhol. SAMAR utilizes the intricacies of the space to talk about gender inequality masked by people who abuses their faith to get what they want. All of this while incorporating so many esoteric rituals of Malay culture, portrayed beautifully in a living and breathing space. The play also stands strong as one of the most meticulous yet simultaneously piercing of piece of anti-patriarchy work in 2017.
Created by Shahrul Mizad, Iefiz Alaudin, Murni Omar, Faillul Adam, Fasyali Fadzly
Cast: Shahrul Mizad, Iefiz Alaudin, Murni Omar, Faillul Adam, Fasyali Fadzly
More than just a dance show, Langkau differs from many when it comes to how they approach the issue of social phobia. This interpretative, physical theatre, does not attempt to tackle it or act to be above the issue. Langkau portrayed it as it is, without trying to be self-righteous about the matter. The two hour show comprised of intense scenes involving movements, dialogue, lights and sounds intertwined with “intermissions” or “pauses” of the core five seeming to be rehearsing the show. Not many contemporary dance shows such as this allows room for introspection and digestion, yet these performers (who are all ASWARA (Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan) educators) manoeuvres around this otherwise chaotic portrayal with grace. It’s a production that projects all of our insecurities and anxiety on stage with stunning clarity and that’s why it still sticks in our heads like a joke you wish you told earlier.
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Nicole-Ann Thomas
Cast: Qahar Aqilah, Arief Hamizan, Phraveen Arikiah, Ivan Chan, Esther Liew, Vinna Law, Vale Wong and Marvin Wong
The Pillowman is classic Martin McDonagh, coupling darkness with the absurd. It also presents any playwright worth their salt a challenge to adapt, as it also presents seemingly disjointed tales that crafted with the wrong hands would turn out to be a big ball of pretentious mess. With that enormous expectation in mind, this adaptation exceeded all expectations. Christopher Ling’s set design and creative direction brought the dystopian world to live. The twinkling music-box melody of childhood innocence, the ominous feeling of dark things to come; all of that found in the original composition of Vale Wong. The people who truly standout are the ensemble cast, consisting of Marvin Wong, Vinna Law, Esther Liew and Vale Wong. Even though each actor plays multiple roles across Katurian’s (the main character) stories, they carry through this diverse range satisfactorily; whether it’s in Marvin’s portrayal as a child in one scene and a parent in the next, or in Vinna’s portrayal of manic, biblical characters. Very few dialogue is uttered by them, but with Nicole-Ann Thomas at the helm of the ship as the director, their pantomime portrayals come off as sharp and impactful through her directing. Even in a dialogue-focused play (a long one at that), the actors in this production undertook the challenge of maintaining the energy of the story, successfully carried by Arief Hamizan, Qahar Aqilah, Ivan Chan and Phraveen Arikiah. Everything came together with such ease in this complex piece that it is no doubt that The Pillowman won the gold medal in our hearts.